Saturday, October 28, 2006

Haek bang-gu.

Korean road trips are fundamentally different from their longer (and therefore manlier) counterparts in the western hemisphere. Korea itself is about the size of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, so driving from one end of the country to the other seldom takes longer than fifteen minutes, 25 if you happen to get caught during rush hour or in the midst of one of the hwa-rang taekwondo streetfights that rage constantly in the unpoliced suburbs.

Because of Korea's longitudinal and latitudinal brevity, it has been woefully deprived of one of the few remaining American institutions that could arguably be called worthwhile: the American truck stop. Korean truck stops - because there are about three of them - are subject to obsessive-compulsive upkeep and sanitation. Where there should be Skoal-encrusted toilet seats and glory-holed stall walls, there are friendly solid-gold cyborg bidets that are fluent in over six million forms of communication. Where there should be amphetamine-popping truckers with Old Testament names, there are shrewd, camelbacked old men who will simultaneously organize your wallet, give you a neckrub, and grill up a live squid. In short, the Korean truck stop is modern, safe, and open to Asian-looking people from all walks of life, not just those of us who are young and gutsy enough to put our trucker virginity on the line for a bag of vending machine Funions.

We stopped twice on the 53 kilometer drive to Gyeongju. En route, we passed a trailer truck hauling thirty rusted red cylinders stamped with the English words "ROBOT WIRE." The Bostonian and I posed a few anxious questions from the backseat, which prompted Sangmin to hit the gas and crank up the Korean hip-hop. The invasion has begun.

Gyeongju was typically Korean. Mountains, pagodas, nylon Buddha ponchos, and every ten feet a vending machine stocked to the brim with Pocari Sweat, a hyperaddictive opiate-based sports beverage. While in Gyeongju, as per whenever I leave the apartment, I absorbed a small cult of eight to ten year-old disciples who followed me around stroking my arm hair and saying "I love you."

We didn't stay long, but I did manage to take this pretty bad-ass picture of Hyunmin.

It is an unfortunate coincidence that I happened to catch him during one of the rare twelve-second intervals where he is not puffing on a cigarette, otherwise this would have been a near-perfect Marlboro Man shot.

Korea - as evidenced by the photograph below - is a fantasyland of nauseating antiquity, harrowing technological capability, and chuckle-worthy juxtapositions of the two.

I do not recommend it to anyone.


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